Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's beauty got to do with it?

Dear friends of reading and writing,

I just read an article on a man who studies birds in an interdisciplinary way, in the Yale Alumni Magazine (The bird-filled world of Richard Prum by Cathy Shufro).  I'm sure I'll be thinking about this article for a long time.  Near the end of the article, Shufro describes how Prum changed the way people think about bird coloration.  Biologists have explained the bright colors we enjoy as evidence of fitness, so they are supposed to help a female choose a mate with good genes since he's so fit.  Kind of like advertisers think about great arm muscles and abs for human males, it seems to me.  But Prum could not really buy the theory, and harked back to the ideas of Ronald A. Fisher that females choose those bright males just because they are attractive.  People resisted his ideas until he realized it's about beauty and moved into the philosophy of aesthetics.  Feather art, like human art, he theorizes, is a form of communication via beauty and it co-evolves with its evaluation. As females enjoy red throats, they get brighter and bigger.  As humans enjoy irony in art, it gets ever more ironical.  He has no trouble connecting flowers, birds, and consciously made art in the category of Art, since he defines it as this communication with co-evolution by evaluators.  Who evaluates flowers, you ask?  Bees, birds, all the pollinators.  But what they receive is the joy of beauty.  So I think this is a message for writers too.  Writers need to write for themselves, but in the end, their work will rise or fall based on how well it communicates and how the readers respond.
Photo credits (Wikipedia Commons): Cardinal by a Fish and Wildlife Service Employee, Peach-faced lovebird by Stephen W. Dengler, 2005, via Gnu.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The dark! The dark!

I wonder what fall was like before daylight savings time.  It would have arrived graduaally. Now, it's a think, black curtain across the night so that one night I come outside after work into the dark.  I think about fires in fireplaces, buckets of coal, heavy cloaks, pea soup fog.  My fingers and toes are cold all the time.  But at the same time, as I said in my last post, I anticipate the long quiet season when I get to read many books.  I'm enjoying the speed with which my Kindle lets some of those books appear in my life, although it's tempting me to read before my time really allows.  Here's a blast from my past: I used to order seed catalogs about now every year.  I spent my time in the dark days dreaming over possible summer flowers, ones with haunting names and strange colors and shapes, ones with evening scents to attract hawk moths, ones with secret flowers but large and flamboyant fruits.  Gourds were always on my lists, but the one time I really grew them, they disappointed.  Unlike their vigorous cousins the squashes, they damped off, died of mosaic, died of mold, just had no real urge to live.  I always imagined that all the plants I planned to order from the seed catalogs would spring into life, pushing aside any other plants to overtake all and bloom extravagantly.  But most of that explosion was in my mind on dark evenings of winter.